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HomeMoviesDesert Road Review | A Mind-Boggling Thriller

Desert Road Review | A Mind-Boggling Thriller

Desert Road proves that the desert can be as terrifying as it is beautiful. At one moment, the way the sun hits the rocks and the sand makes for a gallery-worthy photograph, and being this far removed from the burdens of life (in the city, at work, in an office) is freeing. But, the next moment, the heat becomes heavy and starts to play tricks on the mind. More than that, the horizon seems to stretch endlessly in all directions. Being alone in such a desolate place is scary, but what’s even scarier is being trapped here with shady characters you can’t trust.

Brimming with a sense of paranoia and desperation, Desert Road marks writer-director Shannon Triplett’s feature directorial debut. The film made its premiere at the 2024 SXSW, and follows an unnamed woman (Kristine Froseth), who is driving along a desert highway, on her way to visit her mom in Iowa. She stops at a gas station to refuel, but shortly after getting back on the road, her front tire bursts, and her car skids off the road. She walks back to the gas station to call a tow truck; being a budding photographer, she decides to explore the area. This is where things take a turn: to her horror, the woman discovers that no matter which direction she walks in, she somehow ends up back to where her car has crashed.

A Sci-Fi Mystery with Lots of Heart


Desert Road (2024)


Release Date
March 10, 2024

Shannon Triplett

90 Minutes

Shannon Triplett


  • Triplett creates a confident and thrilling debut with great cinematography.
  • Kristine Froseth anchors the film and is excellent.

  • You may solve the mystery long before the character does.

What’s remarkable about Desert Road is how it achieves so much by using so little. The cast may be small, and the locations minimal, but the film doesn’t feel barren in any sense of the word. This is an especially incredible feat, considering how it is set in a desert, which, with a less discerning eye, could easily have felt static or one-dimensional.

Indeed, Triplett takes full advantage of the natural landscape, effectively infusing the film with a gritty verisimilitude. Whether it’s relying predominantly on natural light — we can feel the scorching sun beaming and beating down on the Woman — or the rustling of the sand and the scraping of the rocks, the desert feels like a living, even threatening, organism.

It also helps that the spotlight is firmly on the Woman at all times. Right from the beginning of Desert Road, in fact, we are introduced to her in a way that immediately anchors us to her; she is the ground on which we stand throughout this ordeal. Triplett’s script takes great care in establishing and maintaining the Woman’s emotional stakes, and while some emotional chords don’t necessarily strike the perfect note, you can’t help but root for her. Playing the Woman, Froseth is fantastic, deftly walking the line between her character’s determination and her desperation with aplomb.

The juxtaposition of a deeply human story on one hand and a sci-fi mystery on the other is well-balanced, too. To be sure, Desert Road is a sci-fi movie that doesn’t feel like sci-fi, but it’s not as if you’re left wanting more science fiction elements. In a clever move by Triplett, the rules of this sci-fi world unravel like a murder mystery, teasing a harrowing climax. Some may see the twist coming, but the roads the film takes to get there will certainly keep you entertained.

Outstanding Cinematography That Maintains Tension

The SXSW 2024 logo, featuring a geometric design with bold colors

Alongside Froseth’s lead performance, Desert Road‘s cinematography plays a crucial role in the film’s overall impact. In this way, DP Nico Navia deserves major praise for his camera work. Just as the film itself maintains a mercurial state, shifting from a taut thriller to the artist’s journey with ease, Navi’s lens operates with similar fluidity. He captures the vastness of the desert around the Woman, often moving in a straight line as she runs from one end of the road to the other, but also favors close-ups on the lead character. We are as intimate with her as we are with the world we’re in, allowing a simultaneous familiarity yet strangeness with this mysterious environment (which, without spoiling the mystery, enhances the satisfying climax).

Desert Road is far from the first film to explore life as an artist, nor is it the first film to bend, blend, or up-end the rules of genres. This, of course, doesn’t make it any less thrilling of a debut from Triplett, who offers a perspective on genre filmmaking that, particularly in the realm of sci-fi, is instantly unique and exciting. Triplett’s promise as a director and storyteller stretches as far as the sun on the vast horizon, and we are so lucky to be witnesses to it.

Watch this space for distribution and release information for Desert Road.

This story originally appeared on Movieweb

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